News / Europe

How the Separatists Delivered Crimea to Moscow

Crimean Premier Sergei Aksyonov attends the swearing in ceremony for the first unit of a pro-Russian armed force, dubbed the "military forces of the autonomous republic of Crimea" in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 8, 2014.
Crimean Premier Sergei Aksyonov attends the swearing in ceremony for the first unit of a pro-Russian armed force, dubbed the "military forces of the autonomous republic of Crimea" in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 8, 2014.
Reuters
Within a week of its building being taken over by armed gunmen last month, the regional parliament in Crimea was voting in favor of the Ukrainian region becoming part of Russia.
 
How that was achieved under the leadership of Sergei Aksyonov, 41, a Russian separatist whose political party won 4 percent of the vote at the parliamentary election in 2010, was a master class in vote rigging and intimidation, according to several opposition lawmakers.
 
“It was all a great spectacle, a tragic spectacle,” said Leonid Pilunsky, one of a number of regional lawmakers who say a vote behind closed doors to install Aksyonov was fixed and key decisions were taken before anyone could respond.
 
A pro-Russian man (not seen) holds a Russian flag behind an armed servicemen on top of a Russian army vehicle outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava, March 1, 2014.A pro-Russian man (not seen) holds a Russian flag behind an armed servicemen on top of a Russian army vehicle outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava, March 1, 2014.
x
A pro-Russian man (not seen) holds a Russian flag behind an armed servicemen on top of a Russian army vehicle outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava, March 1, 2014.
A pro-Russian man (not seen) holds a Russian flag behind an armed servicemen on top of a Russian army vehicle outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava, March 1, 2014.
Moscow says Crimea is in the grip of a home-spun uprising, a popular response to the revolt in Kiev which ousted Ukraine's Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich.
 
But for the authorities in Kiev and local politicians still loyal to Ukraine, the rapid pace of events were evidence of a carefully orchestrated campaign from Moscow.
 
Moscow denies any role in installing Aksyonov, who is known from his business days by the nickname “The Goblin”. But even those close to the Kremlin say Russia picked him.
 
“Moscow always bet on Yanukovich. But after the coup in Kiev on Feb. 22 ... Moscow decided it needed to back the secession of Crimea from Ukraine. Then they looked for who could be its leader,” said Sergei Markov, a political analyst sympathetic to the Kremlin who often explains its workings abroad.
 
“They chose Aksyonov.”

Enter the goblin
 
Crimea, Ukraine.Crimea, Ukraine.
x
Crimea, Ukraine.
Crimea, Ukraine.
The day before the takeover of Crimea began, on February 26, the region's parliament met to debate holding a referendum on loosening ties with Kiev. The atmosphere was volatile.
 
In the four days since Yanukovich had fled Kiev, pro-Russian groups had been signing up volunteers to self-defense militias, spurred by Russian television reports that armed Ukrainian nationalists would descend from the capital.
 
While Crimea's parliamentarians met, thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators clashed outside the building with protesters supporting unity with Kiev.
 
The vote on the referendum was not held that day: there were not enough lawmakers to reach a quorum after Pilunsky and another opposition lawmaker refused to register as present. “They begged, appealed and threatened us,” he said.
 
The next morning before dawn, armed men seized the building, and from then on, journalists were excluded and it was not possible to verify whether a quorum was reached. Lawmakers had their phones confiscated at the door.
 
Among those not allowed in was Anatoly Mogilyov, Crimea's regional prime minister, appointed by Yanukovich. Mogilyov had spoken out against breaking away from Kiev, and the ruling party he represented - Yanukovich's Party of the Regions which controlled 80 seats in the 100 seat legislature - was publicly committed to autonomy within Ukraine.
 
Nevertheless, that night parliament's website said 53 lawmakers had voted to replace Mogilyov with Aksyonov, and 61 had voted to hold a referendum on “sovereignty”.
 
Crimea's Information Minister Dmitry Polonsky, asked whether installing the new leaders in parliament was rigged, said: “There is one supreme power in Crimea which is its parliament and with a majority of votes it is legitimate and legal.
 
“It is impossible to rig a vote in the Supreme Soviet (parliament). There are deputies who push buttons or raise their hands and if the majority have voted for, then the issue is resolved. There are no ways for influencing the vote or falsifying the vote.”
 
Aksyonov did not immediately return calls.
 
The Kremlin also says the vote to install Aksyonov followed all legal procedures in Crimea, but no independent journalists were permitted inside to witness it. At least one Party of Regions deputy told Reuters his vote was recorded as cast for Aksyonov though he was not in the city, much less the building.
 
“I wasn't even in Simferopol but my vote was counted,” said the lawmaker, who spoke on condition he not be identified, saying he had received threatening calls and text messages.
 
The lawmaker said duplicate voting cards were taken from parliament's safe to allow votes to be cast in the name of people who were not present. He was aware of at least 10 votes that were cast for people who were not in the chamber. They have not come forward for fear of reprisals, he added.
 
“Let me tell you how they scared people: After the first vote was fabricated, they told us that they would open criminal cases against anyone who spoke out,” he said. “Those in power are not really politicians but businessmen. It's very easy to put pressure on them. They have a lot to lose.”

Save their skins
 
Crimea is the only part of Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority, and the 1990s saw frequent agitation for independence there, especially when relations between Kiev and Moscow were tense. Washington and Kiev blamed Moscow for stirring it up.
 
In a 2006 cable released by WikiLeaks, the U.S. embassy reported back to Washington that Moscow's agents were active again, after the 2004-2005 “Orange Revolution” that brought anti-Russian politicians to power in Kiev.
 
Of all the Russian-backed groups in Crimea, the cable identified the Russian Society of Crimea as the one “with the most overt contacts with Moscow”. The man identified in the cable as its leader, Sergei Tsekov, is now deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament and one of Aksyonov's main lieutenants.
 
In 2010, Aksyonov led the political wing of Tsekov's Russian Society, a party called Russian Unity, into parliamentary elections. The party won just 4 percent of the vote, or 3 seats.
 
“In spite of all the financing and help he got from Moscow, his party was not able to do better in elections because these currents in Crimean society are not that strong,” said Andrei Senchenko, an opposition member of Kiev's parliament who hails from Crimea.
 
On their website, Russian Unity and the Russian Society are clear about their aim to reunite the province with Moscow, saying: “the future of Crimea and Ukraine is union with Russia”.
 
The last time Crimeans were asked about Moscow's rule, in 1991, they voted narrowly for independence along with the rest of Ukraine. Despite the tensions of the 1990s, open support for secession or reunion with Russia had become a fringe view as long as the sympathetic Yanukovich held power in Kiev.
 
But as Yanukovich's grip looked less solid, there were already signs the Kremlin was seeking more influence in Crimea.
 
In early February, Crimean media reported that one of Putin's closest aides, Vladislav Surkov, had visited Crimea.
 
Once Yanukovich fell, lawmakers in Kiev from the ousted president's Party of Regions backed the new government that replaced him. But in Crimea, some party members swung behind Aksyonov. Crucially, he won the support of the Crimean parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov.
 
That allowed control over votes being held behind closed doors inside the assembly building under guard of armed men.
 
Pilunsky, the Crimean opposition lawmaker, said ruling party figures in Crimea had switched allegiance to Moscow to protect themselves from the prospect of investigation by the new authorities in Kiev over their years in power in the province.
 
Party of Regions figures blame the new government in Kiev for failing to negotiate quickly enough to head off secession.
 
“The breakup of Ukraine began in Kiev,” said Vadim Kolesnichenko, a Party of Regions lawmaker from Crimea in Ukraine's parliament.
 
“At first, the question was only about enlarging Crimea's autonomy within Ukraine,” he said. “When instead of talks, Kiev launched criminal investigations [against Crimea's new leaders] ... That is when it became clear: how long can we live in isolation?”
 
Then, as Aksyonov seized control, Russian lawmakers were flown into Crimea, promising Moscow's financial backing and support.

Referendum
 
Only a week after gunmen planted the Russian flag on the local parliament, Aksyonov and his allies held another vote and declared parliament was appealing to Putin to annex Crimea. The referendum would be moved forward to March 16 and voters would now be asked if they wanted to join Russia, it said.
 
Again, a number of lawmakers say they were not present. Nor were reporters. Those deputies who did attend were not told in advance what the vote would be about.
 
In a video provided by the regional government press service, speaker Konstantinov is shown addressing some 10 deputies sitting in two mostly empty front rows.
 
“We will vote on a resolution on joining the Russian Federation and they must decide before the referendum if they will accept us so people don't look stupid voting for Russia.”
 
The decision was announced outside parliament to a roaring a crowd, chanting “Rossiya! Rossiya!” and waving the Russian tricolor. Parliament said 78 deputies had backed it.
 
That day, Russia's parliament also adopted legislation making it easier to annex territory.
 
The outcome of the referendum is in little doubt. Billboards tell Crimeans they have a choice between a map of Crimea painted with a Russian flag or one emblazoned with a Swastika.
 
Voters have been given a choice between joining Crimea to Russia or restoring an earlier constitution which would declare it a sovereign part of Ukraine. The regional assembly has voted that if sovereign, Crimea would join Russia anyway.
 
Those who favor continued ties with Kiev are widely expected to abstain, including the 250,000 Crimean Tatars, the most solid supporters of ties with Kiev, who fear rule by Russia which deported them en masse to Uzbekistan under Stalin.

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine Could Be in Use by January

Assistant director says that clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, United States, Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: connie from: Canada
March 13, 2014 5:49 PM
The US is so wrong with what there doing to the Ukraine, why is it the US media not covering the leaked calls from Victoria Nuland, and the EU call with Estonia, it tells us right there that the EU and Washington are behind this mess. I can't believe other countries aren't outraged with the US and EU. Russia has every right to defend there interest in Crimea and if Crimea wants to go with Russia that's up to them to decide not Washingtons.


by: Regula from: USA
March 13, 2014 12:56 AM
This story is no more than western foul-mouthing and deliberated false information. The US has so far refused to admit that the rightwing extremists are in fact neo-Nazis, the offspring of those who fought against Russia together with the Nazis. And the US has refused to admit that these neo-Nazis rioted and set police on fire, hit on police with steel pipes, sticks and chains in Maidan. And the US has refused to admit that these neo-Nazis who have now been made the "security force", harass people, infiltrate crimea and confiscate or rip up peoples passports to prevent them from voting on the referendum this Sunday.

Yes, the US has lost the Russian speaking population in Ukraine - because everybody understood what a criminal interference the US engages in.

Obama needs to be impeached. The US people want a foreign policy based on legal, diplomatic interactions with other countries, not the use of criminals to topple legal governments to force any independent nation under the US dictat.

In Response

by: Derek from: NY
March 13, 2014 9:49 AM
What is the relevance to Crimea of whether right-wing groups were involved in the anti-Yanukovich protests? Why would that justify Russia invading the sovereign territory of Ukraine or Russian separatists rigging a vote for secession and intimaditing opponents? How can there be a genuine referendum w/ Russian soldiers in Crimea and pro-Russian groups attacking anyone who opposes them? How is the Russian invasion of Crimea not a violation of int'l law?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid